I can see it on my students’ faces every time they appear on Zoom—they smile and try to make small talk, but they’re exhausted. By this time of year, school has kicked into high gear, and they have homework, sports, jobs, homecoming, and (of course) college applications. As Independent Educational Consultants (IECs), there are many times students need us as they navigate the college admission process. However, I find the seven moments outlined below are turning points in the process for most students. These are the times when it’s critical to listen and be present as an IEC—the defining moments when students need us the most. Here’s my best advice for when to step in to help you support your students.
1. When they feel stuck
At some point, all students feel "stuck" during their college search and application process. Some can't decide where to apply, some get fixated on college costs—but most often, students get stuck when they’re working on admission essays. Somehow the thought of writing something imperfect seems impossible, even though that’s the purpose of a first draft. This is when I remind students that the writing process is messy, and the place you start isn’t where you’ll end up. This is when creating strong relationships with your students pays off. I remind them they’re in a safe place and there’s no judgment. When it comes to essays, I’ve seen it all. I encourage them to get their thoughts down on paper so together we can pull out the best ideas for moving forward.
2. When they second-guess themselves
One thing I’ve learned in my 10 years as an IEC is that students will change their minds. They’ll add schools to their list at the last minute. They’ll wonder if they’re pursuing the right major or if they asked the right teacher for a letter of recommendation. They need you the most when the doubt creeps in. The best way to support them is to reaffirm all the work they’ve done. Remind them they made good choices for their college list or that all the volunteering they’ve done and enjoyed on a political campaign means Political Science is a great intended major. I remind them that together, we’ve created a well-thought-out plan for their academic future.
3. When they’re stressed
Applying to college is stressful. I remind my students that they’re human beings and being a senior in high school is a lot. By asking them about their day or remembering they had a big test the last time we spoke, I connect with them on a personal level. From there, I help them prioritize or even postpone some of the goals we had set the week before. We work through each of their struggles one at a time and brainstorm other individuals who can help. My ultimate goal is to help a student break up their responsibilities into smaller, more manageable tasks. This will ease the overwhelming feelings and ultimately help them focus enough to get back on track.
4. When they’re waiting on admission decisions
Waiting is sometimes the most challenging part of the college application process. I have a strict rule with my students that they can’t look at their applications again after submitting them. This is another time when doubt creeps in and second-guessing takes over. While they’re waiting on college decisions, take the time to check in and send them encouragement. Turn their focus to applying for scholarships, preparing for interviews, and saying thank you to the individuals who helped them with their college applications.
5. When they receive bad news
A rejection, whether it’s expected or not, is difficult for everyone. For some students, being denied admission to a college or university may be the first time they’ve heard the word “no.” While the heartbreak can be devastating, students have the difficult task of moving on quickly in this process. Since a decision ultimately needs to be made about colleges they did get accepted to, they can’t let their grieving process linger. I encourage students to focus on their other options to help them regain control over the college process.
6. When they need to choose
Similar to being stuck when it comes to essays, some students are paralyzed when it comes time to make a final college decision. I help my students brainstorm all the questions they need to answer to make this choice and where they can find these answers. Once they collect all the information, they can usually move forward. However, if they’re still indecisive, I tell them to pick a university and just say for a day they’re attending that school. They can tell their parents and best friend, but maybe don't make it public just yet. I let them live with the decision for at least 24 hours. This exercise helps students determine where their heart really is: either they’ll feel excited about their "decision" or like they’re mourning an unchosen option.
7. When it’s time to celebrate
I find it’s just as important to be there for students when it’s time to celebrate as it is when things are difficult. Answer their text when they inform you of good news and express your happiness for them. Attend their graduation parties and send them a note when they finally head off to college. Remember to tell them how proud you are of them—they did all that hard work successfully, and they deserve the praise.
As an IEC, it’s a privilege to be a part of young peoples' lives as they navigate this huge decision-making process. Every year, I watch in awe as my students evolve from lost teenagers to excited young adults ready to take on their next step. As I’m with them through all the ups and downs of the college application process, I know the support I give them will leave a lasting impression—as yours will on your students!
Having trouble supporting students during the pandemic? CollegeXpress is here to help! Check out our article Pandemic Problems: Resources to Share With Students.